RAC Foundation aligns with PACTS in call for road accident investigation branch

12.57 | 20 December | | 24 comments


A fresh approach to crash investigation is required to help bring down death and injury on Britain’s roads, according to the RAC Foundation.

In a new research paper published today (20 Dec), Steve Gooding, RAC Foundation director, argues that a ‘tandem, no-blame system of investigation’ could help reduce road casualty numbers in the future.

Currently the police analyse what has happened after an accident with the aim of making a case against anyone deemed legally responsible.

Earlier this year, the Parliamentary Advisory Council on Transport Safety (PACTS) called on the Government to introduce a Road Collision Investigation Branch, similar to those already operating in the marine, aviation and rail sectors.

And at the recent 2017 National Road Safety Conference, Simon French, chief inspector of the Rail Accident Investigation Branch, drew comparisons between accident investigation in rail and road and discussed how the principles of independent accident investigation might be applied to the road sector (watch the presentation).

Steve Gooding said: “The creation of a dedicated analytical unit within the DfT should be relatively quick and easy to set up, and while not being independent nor having the resource to conduct individual investigations could still compile, collate and analyse the huge amount of information already collected.

“If DfT provided some modest seed corn funding it would be possible to envisage a local or regional pilot involving one or more highway authorities and their associated police constabularies acting together on a voluntary basis.

“Not a model that would reveal the bigger, national picture, but still able to work through how to manage the tangle of civil and criminal liabilities.

“And then there’s the option of Highways England establishing a unit, directly funded but operating at arm’s length, to focus on the strategic road network.

“There comes a time in any long-running debate when an idea either runs out of steam or finally begins to gain traction.

“We believe that moment is near on the argument for developing a better way to investigate the causes of road crashes, and so we add the Foundation’s voice to those of PACTS and other safety organisations for this fresh ‘do-something’ option – an idea whose time has surely come.”

 

 

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Order by Latest first | Oldest first | Highest rated | Lowest rated

    Okay Nick – I stand corrected on that point, although you appeared to disagree with an earlier paragraph of mine, when I praised the vehicle manufacturers and authorities in having made great strides over the decades in helping to reduce collisions and resulting casualties.


    Hugh Jones
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    Hugh – I in no way am suggesting that “authorities” are being apathetic. I work in one such organisation which works very hard at trying to get casualties down in conjunction with its partners. My initial post does not put the acceptance at the feet of the “authorities” as you seem to be implying it does, rather it was meant to be society in general. I cannot think of one police officer who would not be happy if they did not have to visit the aftermath of a collision again, or one local government officer who would not delight in never having to produce casualty statistics.

    It may well be a simplification to say that “the authorities” are tasked with stopping the casualties by using resources that could perhaps be more positively used for other purposes whilst “the people” bear the emotional costs and also the financial cost of funding “the authorities”.

    If behaviours changed at a societal level such that collisions/casualties vastly reduce then the people making up that society would not need to fund the “authorities” work to stop them happening. There will, I imagine, always be a need to educate/inform/train/regulate/engineer to achieve lower casualties in response to changes in travel patterns and systems, and it appears obvious to me that it is not a gentle evolution of existing working practices that will produce a step change in casualty reduction/prevention but more of a revolution in terms of methods to drive the changes required at all levels.


    Nick Hughes, Preston
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    +1

    Not sure why there’s a suggestion that the authorities are accepting the situation or even being apathetic, when everyday in this news feed there are news stories on new initiatives, ideas and campaigns, the objective of which is, one way or another, to reduce collisions… to take just one example, a campaign is currently being promoted inviting camera footage to be sent to the police for that very reason…that to me suggests a certain level of commitment.


    Hugh Jones
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    Nick is right, road safety is fragmented. The call for an accident investigation branch came out of the Transport Safety Commission ‘TSC’ report. Recommendations called for improved arrangements for accident investigation so that learning is separated from the prosecution and creation of an advisory body for road safety independent of government.

    It is time that the whole structure for road safety delivery is improved. As it stands the ‘stakeholders are looking to the government to deliver change. But the government is expecting the stakeholders to deliver on road safety and road safety policy to be created at a local level by the many road authorities. One solution would be for everyone involved in road safety to get together and create an executive body who will be held responsible and be accountable for the creation of road safety policy and overseeing accident investigation and delivering the changes that are needed.

    Professor Stephen Glaister summarised the current position quite nicely in the TSC press release. “That all our recommendations refer to road rather than aviation and rail safety is a sad indictment of a continued collective failure to tackle an appalling situation that somehow is seen as acceptable by those in authority.”


    Derek Hertfordshire
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    Hugh – I think we will have to agree to disagree on your second paragraph about acceptance of casualties.


    Nick Hughes, Preston
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    +1

    I fully agree Nick that we need societal changes to induce better, more responsible attitudes to reduce the bad behaviour on the roads and hence less collisions, but another organisation to re-investigate what has already been investigated is not the answer, especially where the premise is apparently going to be one of ‘no blame’ which for me sounds a bit like excusing bad road behaviour.

    I don’t think it’s fair to say loss of life has been accepted when the authorities and the vehicle manufacturers over the decades have strived to bring about a reduction in fatalities.


    Hugh Jones
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    +1

    Has any other country got a road accident investigation branch? If so, how does it work? I wouldn’t be very keen on investigating a collision when I had not been able to attend the scene soon after it took place. The frequency of fatal air/rail crashes compared with those on the road network is going to mean something pretty special in terms of the logistics that would be required to provide a decent service. I wonder whether it would all stack up on a cost versus benefit analysis.


    David, Suffolk
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    +1

    Hugh, I think it is a bit more complex than creating another organisation to “tell us” what is causing collisions/casualties. Road safety work is in my opinion quite fragmented as per my earlier post and appears presently to be in a state of change regarding this issue. What is needed I think is something to drive the societal changes needed to reduce the collision causing factors to a minimum. We have over a hundred years of experience of various types of motorised vehicles mixing with other road users and still there appears to be an acceptance of losing lives as a price worth paying for “freedom of movement”.
    There are many people out here who would welcome a way of turning this situation around as happened in say air transport.


    Nick Hughes, Preston
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    +2

    There are plenty of incidences of vehicles driving on the wrong side of the road. Check Stats 19 data for head-on collisions. Somebody surely was in the “wrong place” for that to happen?

    Witnessed an incident myself just before Christmas in a Tesco Car Park of a vehicle heading straight towards me on the wrong side of a clearly marked out carriageway. Thankfully I took evasive action and no collision occurred. As long as humans drive (and walk) there will be “mistakes” like this. The skill is to put measures in place to minimize the occurrences. (until the robots take over……)


    Nick Hughes, Preston
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    Derek – fair enough, but you should have clarified initially that you were referring to foreign lorry drivers on the wrong side of the road – your comment makes a bit more sense now. Simply saying “drivers are causing death by going in the wrong direction for the road surface on which they are travelling” does not immediately conjure up an image of foreign lorry drivers.

    I’ve still not witnessed it myself however, but do witness on a daily basis, speeding, too-close driving, impatience, not looking properly, ‘phone use etc, and a raft of other collision causing behaviour, all of which the authorities already know about so we don’t need another tier of accident investigation to tell us that nor, apparently, of the problem of foreign lorry drivers on the wrong side of the road.


    Hugh Jones
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    +1

    Hugh, Why would it be embarrassing to prevent about 1-2 % of the road deaths? The accidents aren’t going to go away unless something is done to prevent them. There are lots of different reasons why people are being killed on our roads and will continue to do so unless we do something ‘new’ to prevent them. Our roads are still being engineered to a 50 year old rule book and as a result we watch people die every year. Do we have to wait for a National tragedy, a coach full of schoolkids to die before taking action?

    Here is a bit of info and links

    In 2011 the first person was dead before midday on the 1st January in a wrong way driving incident near Bluewater Kent. In the first 3 months of 2011 there were twenty serious wrong way incidents, five of which involved death and serious injury. More recently there has been a spate of wrong-side deaths involving foreign lorries being driven on the wrong side of the road but some survive the ordeal. http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/ex-soldier-miracle-escape-after-10198809
    http://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/news/cambridge-news/lorry-driver-jailed-after-head-13275235
    https://www.meltontimes.co.uk/news/transport/death-driver-was-on-wrong-side-of-the-road-1-5788758
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cumbria-35869206


    Derek Hertfordshire
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    Just wondering whether Road Accident Investigation branch recommendations that Government introduce Intelligent Speed Assistance and Graduated Driver Licensing forthwith, would have any greater effect on government than current recommendations from specialists in existing accident investigation units. Those can easily be ignored, but perhaps it would be harder to ignore a Road Accident Investigation Branch …


    Andrew Fraser
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    +6

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone driving in the wrong direction Derek, so of the total number of collisions annually let’s say, what percentage were caused by driving in the wrong direction and of those, how many were under the influence of drink or drugs at the time and how would arrows on the road have helped them?

    It would be embarrassing for the road safety and collision reduction fraternity as a whole if the conclusion of a specialist accident investigation unit was to recommend marking arrows on the c/ways to ‘show drivers which way they should be going’!


    Hugh Jones
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    0

    Hugh, drivers are causing death by going in the wrong direction for the road surface on which they are travelling. They are driving on the wrong side of the road or the wrong way down dual carriageways and sometimes for many miles until they collide. £100+ millions spent each year on marking the roads but no indication is given as standard on the surfaces to show the normal direction of travel (a la Tesco car park). If the driver responsible remains alive after the incident, we prosecute them. ‘Mrs Jones your husband is dead, but don’t worry we have caught the man who did it’. There are many instances where prosecution is no solution and we need to do something NEW to prevent the accidents from happening.


    Derek Hertfordshire
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    “The question that needs to be asked is, ‘Who is ‘in charge’ of road safety?”

    The answer, surely, is to be found in the Road Traffic Act 1988, section 39 and, in particular, sub-section 3.


    Andrew Fraser, Falkirk
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    +3

    Whilst with the present situation we may “expect” casualties on the road network we do not have to “accept” them. Who was it who said if we keep on doing what we have always done we should not be surprised at getting the same results? In any walk of life when investigating a past event if people are worried about being blamed then facts are sometimes kept hidden.

    My understanding from the RSGB conference was that if the Courts need to get information from the RAIB for instance then they can ask for it but the presenter said it very rarely if at all happens?

    I would be surprised if having independent investigations into every road death did not lead to a greater understanding of the causes and therefore a greater chance of reducing the number of deaths on the UK road network. I would also expect a filtering down into a reduction of all severity casualties due to system changes brought in as a result of these investigations.

    At present there are many individual police forces and Highway Authorities tasked with delivering road safety and despite better joined up thinking happening in recent years there is room I think for greater coordination and knowledge sharing to make the roads safer.


    Nick Hughes, Preston
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    +1

    Derek: I can only repeat my much earlier comment that airline pilots, together with air traffic control network and associated disciplines have much, much higher standards than amateur Joe Bloggs with poor standards of road behaviour, who is driving around in his car relatively unregulated with safety not uppermost in his mind. With the latter you expect collisions, with air transport you don’t, so when they do happen investigations are necessary. Incidentally, what do you mean by ‘drivers going in the wrong direction’? In what circumstances?


    Hugh Jones
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    --3

    Hugh, while the only outcome of every incident is just to allocate blame to the individuals involved, opportunities to understand why the incidents occurred and develop prevention methods for future are lost. If after every aircraft crashed it was blamed on the pilot, aircraft safety wouldn’t be where it is today. With a figure being quoted of 80-90% driver error for road accidents, changes are needed to address the errors. There is much room for improvement. Every year people die in horrific head-on collisions caused by drivers going in the wrong direction, but we fail to provide the safety information needed to prevent them.

    But it is not just how we investigate the accidents that is the problem. The question that needs to be asked is; Who is ‘in charge’ of road safety and how can we deliver the changes needed?


    Derek, Hertfordshire
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    +3

    If ‘no-blame’ equates to ‘nobody’s fault’, then what is actually being investigated and why? If a road user’s behaviour was reckless enough to cause a collision, how would a ‘no blame’ investigation be meaningful?


    Hugh Jones, Cheshire
    Agree (2) | Disagree (6)
    --4

    Whilst understanding the rationale for creating a separate ‘no blame’ investigation authority, the parameters and exchange of information between both teams should be carefully understood and outlined before thinking this is an ‘easily achievable’ outcome. As an example, all the current investigation teams (air, marine and rail) have authority to attend scenes and carry out their work; however, information obtained (including witness statements) are not shared with any police investigation which can lead to serious delays and legal challenges/financial implications for both sides. Whilst the presentation by the Head of the RAIB at RSGB explains this, it is an issue that I struggle to comprehend makes an investigation truly ‘transparent’ to families, etc. In other words, if the RAIB find a major contributory factor was caused by their driver in interview, this cannot be shared with the prosecuting authorities’, despite the High Court Order (according to Mr French). Therefore, in the numbers of KSI collisions that occur (accepting there may be a higher threshold for these types of investigation), will the same rules be followed? This leads to another issue, timeliness of investigations and reporting. Currently, very low level interim reports are provided within 4 weeks with the final report being some 12 months (plus) later. This can effect the timing of prosecution cases (think effect on those involved) and any subsequent Inquest proceedings.

    No, I am not wholly objecting to the discussion and consideration for establishing a ‘road’ version of the safety investigations, especially looking at data, trends etc. The annual numbers of potential full investigations involving KSI’s would greatly exceed the numbers of annual marine, rail or air incidents. However, my contention would be the setting of appropriate criteria for similar levels of investigations seen in other transportation organisations; how information can be better shared in the interests of all concerned and the time scales for providing such reports and recommendations.


    David Weller, Kent
    Agree (2) | Disagree (1)
    +1

    I spent nearly 20 years as a Police Forensic Collision Investigator and dispute the suggestion that the Police currently only investigate road deaths with the aim of making a case against anyone who is legally responsible.

    The Police act on behalf of the Coroner and their remit is to establish the cause of someone’s untimely death. They also act for the deceased and their families to answer how/why their loved died. The investigation is totally independent and unbiased.

    The officers are highly skilled with many years of experience and attend collision scenes within a relatively short space of time after the incident. They carry out a forensic examination of the scene, casualties, vehicles and witness evidence and provide expert testimony as to the causes of the incident. They have only one chance to gather evidence and this can result in roads being closed for many hours and in extreme cases, a number of days.

    I cannot see how a central investigation body could make the investigation ‘any better’ and indeed, it would lead to roads being closed for even longer periods of time while the investigator potentially travels half way across the country to get to the scene. Furthermore, having a separate Highways England would introduce a two-tier system of investigation.

    UK Police collision investigators are some of the best in the world and whilst I understand the need for making things better/more efficient I am yet to be convinced that the suggested changes would make things any better.


    Keith Millard, Northampton
    Agree (10) | Disagree (2)
    +8

    Every year people are dying in the same accidents and it is the failure to look beyond allocating blame to the individuals involved that allows easily preventable accidents to continue. When changes do result from accident occurrences they are made at local level rather than a lesson applied across the whole road network.

    Some of the problems that a road accident investigation branch would identify are:
    Training: no procedure for further training beyond the driving test.
    Health: no requirement for regular eyesight testing
    Engineering: little improvement on 1960 standards and technology


    Derek Hertfordshire
    Agree (15) | Disagree (3)
    +12

    Rail, air and marine accidents are relatively rare and because of the higher standards of those operating and regulating these modes of transports, accidents shouldn’t happen, which is why when they do, it is important that they should be investigated. Road collisions on the other hand are to be expected and shouldn’t come as a surprise because of the lower standards of some of those ‘operating’ in such a system. Any investigations carried out now by the police and highway authorities are I think sufficient and there is no need for another tier to investigate what will have already been investigated.


    Hugh Jones
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    --11

    I applaud the report. Most major employers employ a system of root cause analysis a short time after a major (or potentially major) incident. This gives near real time vital information about causations that are immediate/direct or systematic in the nature of root cause failings.

    The major stumbling block is scale and hence cost of the exercise on road crashes. But hang on a minute, if the exercise works then the payback will be huge. I’d start with fatals or a portion of them and see how that goes – it will likely reveal some systematic failings in wide processes that we have become complacent about as KSI’s have until recently been falling despite these failings.


    Peter Whitfield, Liverpool
    Agree (6) | Disagree (0)
    +6